There are a lot of hungry people in America--17.2 million households that were labeled "food insecure" by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not always knowing where their next meal was coming from. A third of those went hungry at some point because they couldn't afford enough food. Children in 386,000 families went hungry some time last year.
The good news: It could have been worse. The department says that aid programs like food stamps kept hunger rates from rising further.
"There's no question in my mind that there would be catastrophic levels of people that were facing food insecurity without this," said the department undersecretary Kevin Concannon.
About the same percentage of Illinois households are unemployed as are food insecure--11 percent, according to Feeding Illinois, the organization that brings together our state's eight food banks. Those food banks serve one in 10 state residents, according to its data. According to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, food insecurity in Cook County is as high as 16 percent.
Still, money for the food stamp program--officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program--is under fire from conservatives in Congress, saying the program is "rife with fraud." Actual data show that food stamp fraud is very rare, and cases are often prosecuted, with fraud making up only 2 cents of every dollar spent on food for hungry families.
With the economy still circling the drain and unemployment in Chicago recently rising again, can poor folks afford any slash to food aid? Perhaps not, if we want to keep hunger rates from going up.
© Community Renewal Society 2011